GOP decries 'culture of cover-ups'

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said Friday that he expects more IRS officials to lose their jobs over the targeting of conservative groups – but even that won’t fix broad problems within the agency.

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Camp, leading off the first hearing held on the extra scrutiny the IRS gave to Tea Party groups, rattled off what he said were at least five separate violations of taxpayers – including threats to conservative organizations and the leaking of confidential information.

Camp also linked the IRS uproar to what he called a “culture of cover-ups – and political intimidation – in this administration,” an apparent nod to last year’s attack in Benghazi, Libya, and the Justice Department’s seizure of reporter records.

“Trimming a few branches will not solve the problem when the roots of the tree have gone rotten,” Camp said.

Steven Miller, the acting IRS chief who was forced out this week over the controversy, apologized for the problems even as he maintained that IRS employees were not picking political sides when they set aside Tea Party groups seeking tax exemption for added scrutiny.

"I want to apologize on behalf of the Internal Revenue Services for the mistakes that were made," Miller, whose resignation is effective at the beginning of June, said in his opening statement. "I do not believe partisanship motivated the practices described ... Foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient."

President Obama on Thursday announced he was appointing budget official Danny Werfel as the new IRS commission as the White House sought to get on top of the controversy. 

Miller is testifying along with Russell George, the Treasury inspector general whose report details what he called “ineffective management” at the agency.

Camp blasted Miller for not telling lawmakers what the IRS had been doing. Miller and Doug Shulman, the former IRS commissioner, both found out about the targeting in May 2012, but declined to inform lawmakers.

“We were repeatedly told no such targeting was happening," Camp said. "That isn’t being misleading – that is lying.

“But now we know the truth – or at least some of it," he said. "We also know that these revelations are just the tip of the iceberg.

“Mr. Miller, with all due respect, this systemic abuse cannot be fixed with just one resignation,” Camp said. “And, as much as I expect more people need to go, the reality is this is not a personnel problem. This is a problem of the IRS being too large, too powerful, too intrusive and too abusive of honest, hardworking taxpayers.”

George’s report found that the IRS asked for excessive information from conservative groups, including donor lists and whether group leaders wanted to run for public office. The IRS also applied inconsistent principles when deciding which groups to give extra screening, the report said, leading some groups to wait months or years for approval.

According to the inspector general’s report, Lois Lerner, the IRS official who first disclosed the targeting, found out in June 2011. Lerner pushed for the screening guidelines to be changed, but other IRS officials eventually went around her to change them again.

Camp said in his opening statement that he’s still interested in hearing why the IRS targeting occurred and why the agency kept it secret for so long, who started the extra scrutiny, and when President Obama and his administration found out.

In his statement, Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), the top Democrat at Ways and Means, said the IRS management “completely failed the American people,” and that Shulman and Miller had a duty to inform the committee of what they knew. Levin added that Lerner should also "be relieved of her duties."

“All of us are angry on behalf of this nation,” Levin said. “And we are determined to get answers to our questions about how this happened to ensure it does not happen again.”

This story was updated at 9:51 a.m.